Penne with Pesto, Potatoes and Green Beans
At its best, pesto is a beautiful emerald green and still has a bit of texture. In Italy, it is traditionally paired with trenette, a strand pasta available fresh or dried, but it also goes well with dried pasta in other shapes, such as penne or ziti. Green beans and new potatoes are classic partners, making this a perfect dish for early summer when the vegetables and basil are at their peak.
For the pesto:
- 1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
- 3 Tbs. pine nuts
- 1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 lb. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
- 2 Tbs. salt
- 1/2 lb. small red potatoes, peeled and cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick
- 1/2 lb. young slender green beans, stem ends trimmed
- 1 lb. penne, ziti or trenette
- 1 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
To make the pesto, in a large mortar, combine the basil, pine nuts, garlic and the 1/2 tsp. salt. Using a pestle, and working in a circular motion, grind the ingredients together until a dense, thick green paste forms. This can take several minutes. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while stirring continuously with the pestle until a thick, flowing sauce forms. Alternatively, in a food processor or blender, combine the basil, pine nuts, garlic and the 1/2 tsp. salt and process until finely chopped. Then, with the motor running, pour in the oil in a slow, steady stream and process until a smooth, flowing sauce forms.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. Set aside.
Bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a rolling boil and add the 2 Tbs. salt. Add the potatoes and green beans and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes and beans to a large, warmed serving bowl. Cover the bowl lightly with aluminum foil to keep the vegetables warm.
Bring the water back to a rolling boil, add the penne, stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, according to the package instructions. Scoop out and reserve about 2 ladlefuls of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
Add the drained pasta to the bowl with the vegetables and then add the pesto. Stir and toss until the pasta and vegetables are evenly coated with the sauce, adjusting the consistency with some of the cooking water if needed. Add the butter and toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).